As different as girls soccer coaches across the Foothill League can be, they can all agree on one thing:
League play is the most important part of the season.
Not one of this year’s teams is dependent on one key player, which could make it the most interesting, too.
Hart High enters the year composed and ready for another league title run, but fearless defenders and super-charged strikers from West Ranch and Valencia could heat up the competition for the Indians in the near future.
Saugus, Canyon and Golden Valley are more focused than ever, and promising preleague results give each program hope.
Here’s a look at all six teams in the order they finished last year:
With only two losses this season and a Hart Soccer Showcase tournament title, the Indians (12-2-1) are entering league play as the strongest contender for the Foothill crown.
But they’re not going to let their guard down just yet.
“The record, rankings, it doesn’t really matter,” said coach Guilherme Mitrovitch. “What matters is those league games. That’s what counts, so we take that very seriously every game, and we’re trying to get the girls focused.”
Hart captured its third consecutive league title last season and ended its playoff run in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
Depth is the team’s biggest strength, with scoring contributions from upper- and underclassmen.
Junior Taylor Moorehead returns for her third year on varsity and leads the team in both goals and assists, with eight and five, respectively. Senior Taylor Scott is close behind with six goals and five assists.
MORE: Sibling rivalry prepared Hart’s Moorehead for varsity
And then there’s Tori Waldeck, one of two freshmen, who is “exceeding expectations,” according to Mitrovitch.
2016 All-CIF honoree Kassie Mathews will represent the defense as the most experienced player on the squad with 12 postseason games played, the most out of all Indians players.
Hart has reached the postseason every year since the 2011-12 season.
“(They have) that confidence, that been-there, we-got-it-done (attitude),” Mitrovitch said. “We know what it takes. We know it’s kind of been difficult — it’s going to get crazy, and I think overall it’s a positive.”
The Vikings haven’t won a league title since the 2012-13 season, but that doesn’t mean they’ve fallen off the radar. If there’s going to be a battle for first place in the Foothill League, Valencia will be in the mix.
With a 6-5-1 preleague record, the Vikings have three shutouts, and have been defeated by an average of only 1.5 goals.
Kayla Kukaua, an All-Foothill League first team selection last year, is a top returner, along with Lauren Madero, an all-league second-teamer. The pair is part of a nine-player senior class on an 18-player roster.
“It doesn’t matter how you do in preseason. League is always tougher,” said coach Kevin Goralsky earlier this season. “That’s what’s exciting about it.”
At 7-3-1 overall, the Wildcats are chugging along with experience in the front and youth in the back.
The offensive centerpiece is Aliyah Satterfield, who leads both the team and league in goals with 12 so far this season. Satterfield was brought up to varsity her freshman year during playoffs, and has stayed there ever since.
“Her sheer talent alone and the level of play that she brings, people just naturally follow her and her leadership comes out that way,” said coach Jared White. “She’s a quiet kid on the field, but she’s a beast.”
Satterfield is committed to the University of San Diego.
2016 All-SCV second-teamers Erin Meottel and Rheanna Patterson return to boost the Wildcats’ offensive firepower.
Freshman Allison Jacobs was thrust into the goalkeeper position due to injuries. White says that she has had some “freshman moments,” but has made a smooth transition into the starting role.
The Wildcats have had a challenging preleague so far, but had a strong second-place finish in the South Torrance Holiday Tournament after falling to Redondo Union High.
They’re focused on fixing small mistakes and getting shutouts to give them the extra boost they’ll need if they want to compete with Hart High for the top Foothill spot.
“We have our sights set on trying to win the championship for the first time and finish top three to get a playoff spot,” White said. “We’re trying not to peak too early, trying to peak too late.”
The Cowboys have emerged from preleague without breaking the .500 mark, but they’re not worried quite yet.
“I think that we’re a game or two away from being at our full potential, and we realize we haven’t hit our full potential yet and we keep taking strides to reach it,” said coach Derek Rusk.
Canyon (3-6-1) has been without four-year varsity and 2016 first-team all-league player Alyssa Aguilar, a major source for goals, for all but one game this season. First, she had club commitments. Then, she suffered bruised ribs.
Without Aguilar, Claudia McKail has stepped up offensively with seven goals (according to MaxPreps). Freshman Cynthia Valdez has helped in the attacking third, too.
There have also been some bright spots defensively, with a 4-0 shutout win and three games decided by one goal.
Jennifer Patino is leading the back line, flanked by sophomores Kaylani Miranda and Shelby Cooper.
Isa Rector and Sabryna Pedroza are two of the teams three captains. Aguilar is the other.
“The girls are excited to start league,” Rusk said. “They put 100 percent into everything they do. The way they support one another and work hard for one another, it’s a pleasure to see.”
Grizzlies girls coach John Bogdan, who coached the Golden Valley boys last season, is on a mission.
“Golden Valley was always a punching bag,” he said. “I want to change that. And right now, we are already moving in the right direction.”
GV has a smaller roster than most, with only 16 girls on the roster, three of which recently came up from junior varsity. Staying healthy will be essential for a solid season.
Kiara Gunn, a senior, currently leads the team in goals with 10 and is the Grizzlies’ offensive spark plug.
“She puts a lot of work in it and then after practice she lifts weights, so physically she’s stronger than the other girls. And her anticipation got much better,” Bogdan said.
Shrinking the goals against average has been a priority for the team, which won two games in league last season. The defense has been shaken up a bit, while the midfield has remained consistent.
Junior Ana Melchor, a former keeper, has taken to the back line this season. Taking her place in net is sophomore Jasmine Solis.
Emily Perez, a sophomore and one of the most improved players in the league, along with four-year varsity vets Marilyn Cabrera and Melissa Lagunas have taken control at midfield.
“The girls are able to make playoffs — that’s the number one goal,” Bogdan said. “And any given day, they can beat anybody.”
The Centurions finished last season without a league win and consequently at the bottom of the Foothill League standings. But Saugus is confident it can take a step forward in coach Aly Drake’s second season at the helm.
The team’s record is 4-7-1, three wins away from surpassing last year’s total of seven.
“The girls are really trying to change things this year, and we’re doing everything we can to compete with some pretty tough teams,” Drake said. “We know the Foothill League will be really tough and the girls are coming out and we’re putting in the hours and blood, sweat and tears.”
Twelve seniors graduated last year, leaving a crop of less experienced players who are ready to improve and grow the program.
Senior Kelly Yanover is spearheading their efforts as a vocal captain and a dedicated center back who will do whatever it takes on defense to keep the ball out of the net.
Breeanna San Lucas, a freshman, is providing energy at the left midfield position. She’s fast and has two goals and two assists so far this year.
“We want to make it to playoffs this year,” Drake said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, and we’re willing to put in the work and go up against some competitors that will be hard, but we’re willing to give it our best shot and do whatever it takes.”